Small-town New England tensions boil over in "The Undeserved," a somewhat overloaded yet impressive feature debut by writer-helmer Brad Coley that's a sufficiently edgy update of "Peyton Place"-style ensemble melodramatics. The 16mm lensing and lack of marquee names won't encourage theatrical exposure. Still, this engrossing pic is a natural for small-screen buyers.

Small-town New England tensions boil over in “The Undeserved,” a somewhat overloaded yet impressive feature debut by writer-helmer Brad Coley that’s a sufficiently edgy update of “Peyton Place”-style ensemble melodramatics. The 16mm lensing and lack of marquee names won’t encourage theatrical exposure. Still, this engrossing pic is a natural for small-screen buyers.

Athens, Vt. (state’s Bellow Falls is the actual location), houses Sperry Rock School, a progressive institution where K-through-12-graders are encouraged to create their own curriculum by the hippie-ish teachers who’ve sired some of them. Science prodigy Charlie (James Martinez) wins a full scholarship to his first-choice college, but his g.f. Joy (Autumn Dornfeld) disappears entirely after dropping out — for reasons Charlie discovers much later — while punky best friend Vernal (Paul Sado) seems perversely determined to screw up his own future. Cutting back and forth over a year’s course, script paints a characterful portrait of the town’s redneck vs. pious-liberal, adult vs. youth populace in a myriad complex of conflicts. Too many issues (what, incest again?) and strands are piled on by a violent climax, but convincing perfs, psychology and atmosphere keep the decently crafted pic quite compelling.

The Undeserved

Production

An Underserved production. Produced by Csaba Bereczky. Directed, screenplay by Brad Coley.

Crew

Camera (color, Super 16), Lasse Toft, David V. Daniel; editor, Seth Anderson; music, Sam Bisbee; production designers, Linda Keil, Nathaniel Waters. Reviewed at Mill Valley Film Festival, Oct. 7, 2005. Running time: 106 MIN.

With

Paul Sado, James Martinez, Autumn Dornfeld, Alexandra Geis, Wendy Vanden Heuvel, David Chandler, Frank Wood, Sean Gullette, Annika Marks, Gordon Joseph Weiss.
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